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Ellen's Choice: Applying my Rules for Effective Time Management to the SAT, part 3: Mix and Match!

Ellen’s Rules For Effective Time Management, Part 3

5. Mix up your subjects.

Spending all day working on the same project can lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy. Mixing up your subjects helps the brain to stay engaged, since it can’t fall into the trance of working on the same thing for hours. If you’re writing a paper and starting to feel annoyed or frustrated with it, take a break and work on your math for a bit. You’ll sit back down to the computer feeling refreshed and relaxed, even if you haven’t stopped for more than fifteen minutes at a time all day.

6. Make the delineations between subjects clear and firm.

When mixing up your subjects, keep them distinct and separate from each other. Take a short break between subjects, or place the rest of your notebooks on the other side of the room so that you’re forced to get up and move around in order to change subjects. Give your brain several minutes to clear and reorganize for the next subject before you dive back in.

The same goes for organization—if you’ve got six subjects all sharing the same notebook, use dividers or get a five-subject spiral notebook to keep them all separate. If you use a three-ring binder, be very picky about where you put your notes. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to sort through your notes and handouts, punch holes in anything that needs it, and arrange them in the correct places in your binder. Keep everything you need for a certain subject in one place. It’ll only take a few minutes per day, but you’ll be rewarded with a much more manageable notebook and far less time spent sifting through loose-leaf paper looking for the prompt for your essay or that one sheet of notes about summations.

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These rules apply to the SAT too, though they now apply differently since the SAT's 2016 Redesign. Before the redesign, the SAT was comprised of nine short sections that alternated subjects between math, verbal, and writing. That format synched up nicely with rule #5, keeping you on your toes by shifting subjects frequently. Not so with the new SAT. Now it more closely resembles the ACT, with one longer section for each subject. So you can't really mix up your subjects in the same way, rather, you should be practicing staying focused for a solid hour of question-answering on a given subject.

Rule 6 still applies, though, because you will still need the ability to switch subjects quickly. Generally you are given between 2 and 5 minutes' break in between sections on the SAT, and you're often not allowed to leave the testing room during that time. So it becomes extremely important to learn to clear your mind quickly and reset for the next subject. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, whatever you feel you need to do to let go of the previous section and recenter your mind for the next one. If you can, get up and walk around the testing room (or out in the hall if you're allowed) for a minute or two; shaking the kinks out of your body helps to clear your mind. Try a quick observation exercise – see how much you can see, hear, smell, or feel about your surroundings. Opening up your awareness will help to get you out of the test for a moment. Try not to get too distracted, though – you'll want to rest your mind while you can and prepare for the next section.

Stay tuned for part 4: Procrastination Sucks!
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